Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let's grab a cab!

When discussing about Japanese taxis, there are both good things and bad things with them in this country. My obvious frame of reference is from my home country Sweden, but from my travels I have come to the conclusion that Europe and the US do not differ so much.

So, to the good things. Taxis are plentiful here and you very very rarely have to wait long for one or call and reserve one, even very early mornings I have easily managed to get a taxi without much wait at all just outside my door. So availability is a definite plus, also, they're reasonably priced here as well, you don't have to give away your first born for a 30min ride somewhere.

Well then, what's the problem you may think. You see, taxi drivers in Japan are usually completely ignorant about the city they live and work in. Throwing out an address will just yield a blank stare and unless your destination is, or is very close to, one of Tokyo's more famous landmarks, the driver will most likely stare at you for a bit waiting for you to give him more instructions and if he doesn't receive it he usually starts driving in the general direction hoping that the issue will resolve itself at some point. It usually never does, so therefore I always bring with me print out maps of the destination nowadays to make sure I don't get stuck in endlessly driving along small streets.

But, assuming that the taxi driver actually knows the destination, then the next inevitable question will come from him: "Which route do you want to take?". Now, I know that this is meant as a service and to avoid customer complaints about detours and stuff later on, it still never fails to annoy me. Since I'm lacking a drivers license and therefore have no idea about the fastest way to drive places I just lamely throw out a "I leave it up to you" after which I usually have to agree to a number of suggestions before we finally get the show on the road.

Just recently I took a taxi and had, as I had learnt the hard way, brought a printed out map since he gave me that blank stare when I told the destination. Then this older gentleman peers at the map for a good minute and then picks up a huge magnifying glass to read the map. Considering the size of this thing I was amazed that he had vision enough to actually drive a taxi... He did get me to the destination though I should mention to his credit, eventually.

Also, a common characteristic for Japanese taxi drivers is that they are almost exclusively male and based on my observations I would estimate the average age to be around 65 years old, and this includes the 20-something driver who drags down the average radically. I remember how he enthustiastically told me how much he loved the Swedish pop group "Atomic Swing" after I had mentioned that I was Swedish... It's a hard life.


ThePenguin said...

You should try Bangkok for useless, illiterate taxi drivers where even having a printed map in Thai was of no use. I wasn't there all that long but very quickly built up a) an excellent knowledge of the city's layout and b) fluency in the Thai words for "left", "right", "straight on" and "put the fucking meter on".

Mr. Salaryman said...

Don't bring up Bangkok to me!

Those tuk-tuk drivers made me very very tired with their scheming and sly refusals to take me where we wanted to go, instead dumping us after shop after shop in which we had no interest at all.

The taxameter schemes they use became pretty tiring as well... At least they don'T try to rip you off here in Tokyo...

ThePenguin said...

Tuk-tuk drivers are evil, at least the ones you find hanging around tourist areas. I did have the pleasure of travelling accompanied by some friendly locals to and from a funeral (not mine) in one, great fun if you can hold on to your lunch.

The trick with taxis, I quickly found, was to enter the vehicle saying "sawatdee-krap" in a friendly-yet-world-weary tone of voice which conveys "Mr Taxi Driver-khun, I know the score and if you put the fucking meter on now I will give you a reasonable tip, and don't try anything silly because I've seen it all before".

Anonymous said...

In Korea, all the taxis have GPS so you don't have to print out a map and show it to them. Also most taxi drivers know the main subway stations. Also most of them are super honest and get offended if you suggest that they're taking the wrong way, but there are the exceptions that take advantage of dumb drunk foreigners. One more thing, they speed like the devil is chasing them and I'm not sure why.

I do admire Japan's taxis' automatic doors though.

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